You have observed your buds for months and waited for your cannabis plants to mature. Eventually, there comes a time when you have to decide to harvest. It isn’t as easy to choose the ideal time as you might think. In the excitement of collecting your cannabis for the first time, you could cut it down far too early. As a result, you miss out on the full effects of the herb.
The flowering time of cannabis varies depending on the strain.
For most growers, there are two methods of determining when your plants are in peak harvest. There is the pistil method and the trichome method. The former only requires your eyes. The latter involves the use of a magnifying glass, such as a jeweler’s loupe.
Harvest timing is arguably the trickiest aspect of growing marijuana for newbies. If you do it too early, you reduce the overall potency of your cannabis. If you leave it too late, your weed will have an excessively strong taste and an unwanted narcotic effect. In this guide, we provide you with details on the best time to harvest. We also provide information on what you can expect during the process.
Best Time to Harvest Your Cannabis Crop
After several weeks in the flowering phase, your marijuana plant will begin to decline in health. Once most of the pistils (the hairs found on the buds) have turned red, it is potentially too late. The marijuana you harvest could lack the psychoactive effects that you desire (there are caveats). During the latter stages of flowering, the trichomes on your plants become amber.
They ultimately reach their peak level of THC. If you haven’t already harvested by now, the psychoactive cannabinoid starts to break down after being exposed to UV rays and oxygen. Over time, the THC becomes cannabinol (CBN). While this particular cannabinoid has some apparent medicinal properties, it lacks the ‘high’ provided by THC. Indeed, CBN is known for its sedative properties. Therefore, it is ideal if you have insomnia and need a night time smoke.
As a rule of thumb, indica plants are ready for harvesting after eight weeks, while sativas need ten weeks. Autoflowers require 7-10 weeks in total from seedling to bud. However, you can’t take these recommendations as a guarantee. Therefore, you have the option of using one of these two methods to determine the right time to harvest.
The Pistil Method
When the majority of the pistils on your plants are white and straight, it is far too early to harvest. You probably have to wait several more weeks. Once you reach the point where 50% of the pistils achieve a brown/reddish color (and begin to curl in), you are very close to harvesting time.
When 70% of the pistils have darkened, you can harvest for the highest amount of THC. Once 80-85%+ of the pistils darken, it is time to collect if you want marijuana that offers a calmer effect. If you leave it too long, your cannabis will lose most of its psychoactive properties.
However, some growers believe the pistil method is ineffective. Conventional wisdom, as we stated above, is that allowing 90% of pistils to change color is terrible news. In reality, many growers say they experience a different type of high, one that is heavier. Others say their pistils completely change color and still produce weed that does the job. For them, it is all about trichomes.
The Trichome Method
Unless you have Superman’s vision, it is impossible to do this method with the naked eye. We recommend purchasing a handheld microscope with a range between 30x and 100x. You will need it to check the trichomes (resin glands) found on your plants’ buds and adjacent foliage. Ideally, you will use a microscope that illuminates the foliage, so you receive an unshaded view of the trichomes.
In case you weren’t aware, trichomes are the crystals you see growing on the buds and leaves. They are the reason why your marijuana is so sticky, and they play a significant role in the potency of your crop. You’re looking for trichomes that resemble miniature mushrooms, resin glands with a little ball on top.
Once there is a large number of ‘mushroom’ trichomes, your marijuana has effectively reached maximum potency. Pay attention to color as well. Plants with clear trichomes are not ready for harvest. In contrast, weed with milky white or amber trichomes is primed for harvest. If the trichomes are all amber, you’ve left it too late!
Here is a list of magnifying tools you can purchase for the trichome method.
It isn’t a hi-tech piece of equipment. However, a loupe should offer enough magnification for an accurate reading on whether your plants are ready for harvest. You can find loupes for under $20, but most of them only offer a magnification level of 40x or less.
This is probably the best option because it gives you a mixture of quality and value. It offers a higher degree of magnification than a loupe. While it is typically more expensive, it is comfortably within the budget of most growers.
This is clearly the most expensive option, but it also provides you with the most accurate reading. There are numerous digital microscopes with a magnification of well above 100x. However, you’re really paying for convenience. With a digital lens, you can connect it to your computer to see the images on the screen.
What Is the THC Level in Your Cannabis at Harvest Time?
Overall, the ‘perfect’ time for harvesting depends on what you’re seeking. For instance, if you want marijuana that acts as a sedative, wait until the pistils of the plant are almost entirely amber. That way, you will have weed with a high CBN content. However, for the highest level of THC, you should consider harvesting when 70-90% of the pistils have changed color.
Alternatively, wait until the resin on your plants has darkened in color ever so slightly. For buds with the highest level of THC, look at the trichomes through your magnifying device. When you see clear trichomes, it is a sign that the buds are still developing. Assuming you have your crop close by, it is best to monitor the trichomes as often as possible. This is a fascinating time because your plant is very close to reaching maturity.
Here’s a quick guide to determining the optimal THC content based on the pistil and trichome methods.
Checking for THC Content via the Pistil Method
- 0-49% of pistils are brown: Now is not a good time to harvest because your marijuana is nowhere near maximum potency.
- 50-69%: Your plant is still not at its peak THC level, but you have the option of harvesting now for a mellow high and light taste.
- 70-90%: Once you reach this range, it is time to harvest because your marijuana is potent! Most growers suggest that the ‘sweet spot’ is 75-80%, but any time after 70% and below 90% will result in high-quality weed.
- 91%+: Your plant is now past peak THC content, and the cannabinoid has already begun degrading into CBN. Marijuana left this late will have a heavy taste and a narcotic effect that’s sure to leave you drowsy. However, some growers believe the color of pistils don’t matter, and that trichomes are more important.
Checking for THC Content via the Trichome Method
- Transparent color: Your plant is not ready. If you harvest at this stage, you will have a lower yield and decreased potency.
- Cloudy color: This is the best time to harvest. Cannabis plants with mostly milky white or cloudy trichomes contain the most THC. They provide an energetic and potent high.
- Amber/Cloudy: The plant is probably slightly past its most potent stage, but you still experience a powerful cerebral and body high.
- Amber Color: The plant is past its peak, and the high you receive now is mainly sedative.
The Right Time to Harvest Cannabis – Our Recommendations
As you have probably ascertained from reading this guide, there is disagreement over the precise time to harvest your cannabis plants. Growing cannabis is an intensely personal experience. It is also a process that can only improve through practice.
There is no single ‘gold standard’ for either the pistil or trichome method that applies to all marijuana strains.
An increasing number of growers experiment with higher CBN products. The cannabinoid is linked with pain-relieving properties. A high CBN marijuana strain will make you feel drowsy. However, users often describe it as a pleasant experience. For best results, harvest when your marijuana plants have slightly exceeded their peak level. By doing this, you receive a strain with CBN as well as THC.
7 Quick Tips on When to Harvest Cannabis
- Your plants are not harvest-ready if the pistils are white and sticking up. It is the same if the trichomes are clear. Harvesting now will result in a low yield and decreased potency.
- Wait until your plants have stopped growing new pistils, and at least 40% of them have changed color and curled in. Now, you are officially at the very beginning of the harvesting window. It is still too early, but at least you haven’t ruined your hard work. Ideally, you will wait a week or so, but we recommend monitoring your plants daily from this point.
- When 50-70% of pistils have darkened, and the trichomes are changing color, you are close to peak THC content.
- Wait until 70%+ of the pistils have changed color and curled in. You also need the majority of trichomes to have a cloudy color with little balls on top. This is the right moment for harvesting if maximum potency is your goal. Don’t waste any more time because your plants will start to degrade rapidly from this point onwards.
- There are a few sativa strains with trichomes that don’t change color. If this happens, wait a little while. If they still don’t change color, you should harvest before the quality of the bud declines.
- Once 90%+ of pistils have darkened, and the trichomes are part amber, part cloudy, your plant is past peak potency. Harvest now, or else you will end up with a high CBN content.
- If almost all of the pistils have changed color and the trichomes are grey or withered, you are likely past the harvest window. You could end up with low-grade weed. It usually takes up to four weeks from the beginning of the window for this to happen.
Harvesting by High
- For a cerebral high: Harvest at step #2 when 40%+ of the pistils have changed color, and at least half of the trichomes achieve a cloudy color.
- For potent weed: Wait until step #4 when 70%+ of pistils have changed color, and the cloudy trichomes look like mushrooms. At this point, your marijuana has the highest possible amount of THC.
- For a relaxing high: Wait until step #6 when some of the trichomes are amber, and over 80% of the pistils have turned brown. Generally speaking, the more amber the weed, the more relaxing the high. If you wait too long, you end up with a strain that contains less THC and more CBN.
Choosing the ideal harvesting time is difficult and represents a significant challenge to a first-time grower. Above all, please remember that you’re allowed to cut off little pieces of the plant if you suspect that harvest time is close. Sample the parts you take to determine your preferences.
If you get high from the clippings, it is an excellent time to harvest the rest!
The main enemy of the new grower is excitement. Understandably, your desire to sample the produce is overwhelming, but you need patience. There is no point in spending months carefully tending to your plants if you ruin everything by harvesting too early.
Although it is not an exact science, it isn’t as challenging to pick the right moment as you think. Once the pistils and trichomes begin changing color, it is time to monitor your crop closely. Check on it daily and adhere to the guidelines above. Cut your weed down for curing and drying once your plants have reached peak potency. Alternatively, harvest earlier for a mellow high or later for a relaxing one.